Using Communication Strategies is not Always Easy : The Hearing Journal

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Using Communication Strategies is not Always Easy

Clark, John Greer PhD

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The Hearing Journal 75(6):p 38, June 2022. | DOI: 10.1097/01.HJ.0000833484.16095.14
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Editor’s note: The following information is excerpted from the author’s book, Hearing to the Max.

Renowned vulnerability researcher Dr. Brené Brown recently wrote that “Fitting in is the greatest barrier to belonging.” Research has demonstrated that humans adjust their actions to be more aligned with that of their peers in an ongoing effort to not stand out from the group, to not be perceived as different.

Hearing loss, hard of hearing, communication.

When those with hearing loss make an effort to improve hearing beyond the limitations of what technology (e.g., hearing aids) can provide, they find they need to set themselves apart from others. They need to draw attention to their difference. They need to discuss their hearing loss. They need to tell others what they need them to do. They need to step outside of the comfort of conformity; and by our very nature, we find this difficult.

Imagine the following conversation between a patient and his audiologist:

Mr. Andrews confides in his audiologist that as his hearing has become worse, he finds his once-a-month lunch outings with a small group of retired friends are more frustrating than enjoyable and he is considering dropping out of the group. His audiologist makes the following suggestion:

“Perhaps you could start lunch by saying, ‘You all know I have trouble hearing sometimes. What you might not know is that I’ve been missing a lot of our conversations for some time. So that I don’t need to interrupt all the time asking for repetitions when I miss something, I want to show you two signs. This means to slow down for me (pumping an open hand, palm downward) and this means to speak just a bit louder (palm upwards and moved slightly up and down). I know you probably know I need these things, but I’m sure if I were you I wouldn’t always remember. Is it OK if I use those signs when I need them?’”

The audiologist concluded with, “What do you think, Mr. Andrews. Is that something you would be comfortable doing?”

Mr. Andrews gave a warm smile and chuckled softly. “No, I don’t think I could do that in a restaurant. It’s a bit too much.”

“Well, perhaps,” the audiologist said. “But are you willing to stop going to your lunches without giving it a try? What do you think the group would say if you said all this?”

“I don’t know,” he reflected softly.

“Well, I suppose none of us really know until you try it. But I suspect they’ll look at you a little funny, shrug their shoulders and say, ‘Sure, why not?’ I think they’ll see the benefits of the suggestion. Besides, what’s the worst thing they could do? Ask you to stop coming to the group? Then you’d be right where you are now, so you wouldn’t have lost anything. And do you think they would do that? Would you do that to one of them?”

Using communication suggestions becomes easier when we practice a little introspection and consider how things realistically might unfold and how others are likely to react. The good news is that we can get past our instinctive conformity. We can make our needs known so that our conversational exchanges (or lunch outings with friends) are more successful. And the further good news is that others accept our requests much more readily than we expect.

Don’t get overwhelmed with a long list of suggestions.

  1. On a list of strategies, place a checkmark next to one strategy you would like to try. Or jot down the strategy on a sticky note and place it somewhere you will see it like the refrigerator or bathroom mirror.
  2. For the next week, each evening, read that strategy and ask yourself if you did it during the day. If you are like most people, you will likely realize that you did not. That’s normal. It takes time to make new habits. Simply tell yourself you will try again tomorrow.
  3. The next evening, do the same thing. Did you remember to use the suggestion? Very possibly not. Every evening, go through this exercise of reading the strategy you have selected and asking yourself if you did it during the day. By the end of a week this selected strategy will likely have become part of your communication habit.
  4. Once you have successfully placed one of these strategies into your communication habits, put a checkmark next to another one and begin the process again. It won’t be long until you and your partner are communicating more easily.
  5. Will doing this and using all of the technologies for hearing loss solve all of your communication problems in all situations? Probably not. But it sure will be better.
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